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Roadways Reopen After Midwest Floods, But Worst Still to Come For Some Areas

Floodwaters started to recede in the St. Louis area Friday, enabling major roads to reopen after unseasonable, record-setting winter storms swamped the region. But in other areas of the Midwest, the worst was yet to come.

Crests are expected in the coming days for swollen rivers in southern Missouri, southern Illinois, and then Arkansas, Tennessee and other southern states.

Two more levees failed Friday, bringing to at least 11 the number topped by high water.

Midwest Floodwaters Recede For Some, Worst Still To Come For Others 2:08

South of St. Louis, residents of the tiny town of St. Mary, Missouri, packed sandbags around homes after a small agricultural levee broke. The Mississippi River is expected to crest there Saturday at about 3 1/2 feet below the record from the so-called Great Flood of 1993.

Meanwhile, in Illinois, the Mississippi poured over Len Small levee, and residents of the hamlets of Olive Branch, Hodges Park, and Unity were urged to move to higher ground. More water is expected before the Sunday crest.

"It's going to get ugly," Alexander County Board Chairman Chalen Tatum told The Associated Press.

While St. Louis itself stayed mostly dry thanks to a floodwall, its suburbs were water-logged. The biggest problems came from the Meramec River — a tributary of the Mississippi — which at points topped the 1993 record by 4 feet.

Hundreds of homes and business were evacuated in Pacific, Eureka, Valley Park and Arnold, Missouri. Damage was just starting to be assessed.

Related: Swollen Midwest Rivers Bring Transportation to Standstill

The receding waters did provide some good news Friday for flood-weary residents as the Missouri Department of Transportation reopened all of Interstate 55, which had been closed Wednesday to allow crews to place sandbags and pumps because it was in danger of being overtaken by the Meramec. A spokesperson told the Associated Press that typically, 76,000 vehicles pass through the area on a daily basis.

Image: Missouri Confronts Major Flooding in 16 Counties as Rivers Crest
A Missouri Department of Transportation worker moves sandbags in a Bobcat along Interstate 55 on December 31, 2015 in Arnold, Missouri. The highway has been closed since December 30th as a result of the near record flood crests of the Meremac River after days of record rainfall. Michael B. Thomas / Getty Images

"So that's going to be a significant relief," Shaunda White said.

Interstate 44, which had also been closed for two days over a 24-mile stretch, was also drying up, and reopened later Friday. A state of emergency for St. Louis County was lifted Friday.

The flooding problems started after more than 10 inches of rain fell this week in an area spanning Illinois to Missouri.

At least 24 people have been killed in Missouri and Illinois. Fifteen of the deaths were in Missouri, where Gov. Jay Nixon on Tuesday declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard.

The death toll in Illinois rose Thursday from seven to nine Friday, after the body of a man was recovered in Polk County, and the body of one of two teenagers missing in Christian County was found, officials said. The other teen remains missing, and in Missouri a duck hunter in Vernon County remains unaccounted for.

The Mississippi was still rising in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, south of St. Louis, but the crest forecast — initially expected to be a record — now was predicted to be about 2 feet short of the 1993 mark.

Meanwhile, a record crest of potentially over a foot above the 1993 crest was expected by the weekend in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, The Weather Channel reported. The floodwall there offers protection to the town, but 18 homes are already flooded and another seven could be affected, the town's blog said.

Cairo, Illinois, which is also forecast to have a near-record crest, doesn't appear endangered.

Parts of the South are expected to get flooding, too. Moderate flooding from the Mississippi is forecast for Memphis, and the National Weather Service issued a flood advisory for the Cumberland River at Dover, Tennessee, through Monday evening.